New Delhi: While the central government is accumulating a huge sum of money under PM CARES Fund as a corpus to fight COVID-19, the amount spent will not be audited by the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG).
A news report by NDTV, quoting sources at the CAG office, said, “Since the fund is based on donations of individuals and organisations, we have no right to audit the charitable organisation”.
Importantly, the Fund was created by the Union cabinet on March 28 to facilitate donations from private individuals and corporate entities to tackle the coronavirus crisis even though such a facility has been available with the government through the Prime Minister National Relief Fund (PMNRF) since 1948. The report said the PMNRF is also not audited by C&AG office “but it has not stopped the government’s auditor from asking questions about how the money was used when it provided for relief after the 2013 Uttarakhand floods”.
However, the C&AG office, according to “a senior official at the C&AG”, would be able to do the same about PM CARES Fund only if the trustees asked it to audit the accounts.
“According to the government, the PM CARES Fund will be audited by ‘independent auditors who will be appointed by the trustees,” the report said. Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the Fund’s chairperson and senior cabinet members are its trustees or members.
Even as it was unclear how funds would be audited, the government, including the prime minister, had been making appeals to corporate houses, public figures, government officials and others to donate generously to the PM-CARES Fund. It has succeeded in accumulating a considerable amount of money so far.
Recently, the Union cabinet secretary also asked all secretaries at the ministries to ask officials, and also the public sector units under them, to donate to the Fund.
Early this week, Delhi University Teachers Association alleged that DU vice-chancellor Yogesh Tyagi, without consulting them, diverted a sum of Rs four crore to the Fund even though it was collected from staff members for PMNRF. The opposition parties, and several chief ministers in non-BJP ruled states, too have questioned the need for such a fund when the PMNRF is already in existence.
As per the Prime Minister’s Office, the objectives of the Fund are:
- To undertake and support relief or assistance of any kind relating to a public health emergency or any other kind of emergency, calamity or distress, either man-made or natural, including the creation or upgradation of healthcare or pharmaceutical facilities, other necessary infrastructure, funding relevant research or any other type of support.
- To render financial assistance, provide grants of payments of money or take such other steps as may be deemed necessary by the Board of Trustees to the affected population.
- To undertake any other activity, which is not inconsistent with the above objects.
Reacting to the NDTV report, former finance minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, Yashwant Sinha tweeted, “Shocking news that C&AG will not audit PM Cares Fund. It was opaque to begin with. Is it going the way of electoral bonds?”
Sinha added, “PM Cares Fund has FM (finance minister), RM (defence minister), HM (home minister) as members (trustees). PMNRF has Congress president and representatives of FICCI and Tata Trust as members. So the second is transparent and the first is opaque. It (PM CARES Fund) is also in violation of the Officials Symbols Act. The two trusts are not comparable”.